Doctor’s journey from the brink to the frontline
As a teenager, Khanyisa Pinda, 26, was told he had six weeks to live because he had dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) condition (enlarged heart).
Now, he is a medical doctor who works on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pinda was a first-year medical student when he was diagnosed with his condition. DCM is a condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the organ’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened.
In some cases, it prevents the heart from relaxing and filling with blood as it should.
Due to his health taking a dip, Pinda took a pause from school.
He was studying towards two degrees at the same time – he pursued the less strenuous degree, BMed Honours in Medical Biochemistry at UCT.
In 2017, doctors put Pinda’s name on an urgent transplant waiting list after his condition deteriorated so much that his heart was left with only 10% functionality, which made him an emergency patient.
Heart health is receiving attention this September as the country observes Heart Awareness Month – a month dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular disease in South Africa, culminating with World Heart Day on September 29.
With the help of medicine and constant medical check-ups, Pinda’s condition has since improved, allowing him to graduate and work as a doctor at the New Somerset Hospital.
He is on 26% heart functionality and has been de-listed on the donor list. While he is living his dream and giving back to the medical industry, Pinda said his life has limitations because of his condition.
“There are things that I can’t do now, with my condition, that I used to do before my diagnosis including physical activity such as jogging, running and training. I cannot keep up with the demand for any physical activity. It’s still a struggle for me because I really want to run or hike when I see people doing it, but physically, it’s impossible.’’
While living with a heart condition can be hard physically, Pinda said he felt it emotionally also.
“When I started working, it really hit me. I had to live with the reality of my condition, and it hit me hard.
“I went into a dark place of depression. But all of that helped me to become a better person and a more compassionate doctor because I understand what it is like to be a patient.
“At first, my condition seemed like a curse, but now, it’s a blessing in disguise because that’s what sets me apart from my colleagues.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, people with heart conditions were listed as high risk, making Pinda’s condition life-threatening: especially because he was a front line health-care worker at the hospital.
He said at the beginning of the pandemic, he was really scared about working as a doctor.
“Even at work, when we did risk assessments, I was high risk because of my condition. I knew that if I contracted Covid-19, things could really go south. But I had hope that I wouldn’t die because I had already experienced far worse.
“But my fears became a reality when I was infected with Covid-19.
“It was the bad pneumonia Covid-19, and I had to be admitted for 14 days in the hospital. It was scary, and I had terrible shortness of breath, but I knew I had to fight,” said Pinda.
While he has survived the worse, Pinda said it took being “intentional” about his health to get him to a stable condition.
His advice: “If you have a heart condition, stay informed and be actively involved with your health.
“To families, please have conversations about organ donations, and donate organs because there are many South Africans who need it.”